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Intimate Readings: Literary Negotiations of Affective and Gendered Belongings

Local cooperation partner: Assoz.-Prof.in Dr.in Silvia Schultermandl, Institute for American Studies
Junior Fellows: Si Whybrew, Dijana Simić

Incoming Senior Fellow: Prof. Heike Paul, Department of English and American Studies, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Incoming Junior Fellow: Jana Aresin

Period: March 2020 to Febuary 2021
Symposium: 14-15 Jan 2021

Publication: Silvia Schultermandl / Jana Aresin / Si Sophie Pages Whybrew / Dijana Simic (eds.) (2002): Affective Worldmaking. Narrative Counterpublics of Gender and Sexuality. transcript.


The cooperation project, which will include a scientific symposium and publication as well as a series of broadcasts at the local Graz radio station "Helsinki" and a reading at the Literaturhaus Graz, has a literary orientation and examines contemporary literary texts from the English-speaking and ex-Yugoslavian regions with regard to the affective and gendered relations of belonging ("belongings") negotiated therein. By this we mean affective structures through which social coherence is established, consolidated and transported. Following Sara Ahmed, we characterize affects as socially mediated, emotional experiences as a result of interactions with the social environment and not just as an expression of inner emotions.

Literary texts make use of these affective patterns to describe the literary figures and their relationships to each other. On the other hand, they can lead readers to identify with concrete figures and forms of identity. Recognizing oneself in a literary figure, feeling sympathy with the suffering they represent, experiencing their arrival in a self-determined subject position as positively touching - all these are aspects of reading that are produced by affective forms of "be/longing". In this way, they also open up space for the emergence of so-called "intimate reading publics", whereby the aesthetic and affective experience of the same literary text constitutes several readers as a public sphere. Our focus on literary texts aims to continue the idea of intimate readings.

The approach described thus allows us, in addition to gender- and affect-oriented text analysis, to place the text examples examined, which place the experiences of female, transgender, queer and other protagonists* marginalized in social discourse at the centre of the narratives, in a social context and to ask about their transformative impact potential. Here, we follow ongoing debates that emanate from the renowned Affekt research group Chicago Feel Tank. Their idea of a so-called "public feeling", which understands emotions within the power structures in which they arise, proves to be extremely productive for our interest in the affective dynamics of individual and collective belonging relations.

Central questions for the individual subprojects as well as for the joint publication are among others:

  • What affective structures and patterns connect the literary figures in the sense of the aforementioned relations of belonging, and to what extent do they serve to create identification potential between readers* and text?
  • Which formal and aesthetic textual strategies are used in the sense of an affective and aesthetic experience of such often autobiographical fictional worlds and how does this relate to prevailing literary traditions, genres and canons?
  • Which general statements - apart from the specific identity constructions of the respective example texts - can be made about affect-based constructions of gendered relations of belonging in literary texts and what unique gain in knowledge can the reading of literary texts open up here?
  • Which (counter-)public spheres are invoked in the selected paradigmatic examples and which affects of belonging are transported by them?

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